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Oracle Makes Major Cuts to Solaris and SPARC Teams

| by Charles Humble Follow 279 Followers on Sep 05, 2017. Estimated reading time: 3 minutes |

Whilst Oracle has committed to support Solaris until the 2030s, the firm appears to have made substantial cuts to the Solaris and SPARC teams this weekend, potentially signalling a silent end-of-life for both products. There hasn't been any official announcement from Oracle, and the vendor has so far not responded to our request for comment, but multiple Oracle staff members have tweeted about an “RIF” - Reduction in Force, the term Oracle prefers to layoffs. For example:

Unconfirmed threads on The Layoff, such as this one, suggest that around 2,500 staff have been made redundant, covering Solaris, SPARC silicon development, and storage hardware including tape libraries. Joyent CTO and former Sun and Oracle engineer Bryan Cantrill suggests that "the core Solaris engineering organization lost on the order of 90% of its people, including essentially all management."

It is worth noting that the illumos fork is, of course, unaffected. Cantrill states:

Indeed, since 2010, illumos has thrived; illumos is not only the repository of record for technologies that have become cross-platform like OpenZFS, but we have also advanced our core technologies considerably...

Writing on his blog Simon Phipps, who was chief open source officer at Sun Microsystems and later also co-founded the OpenSolaris Community, states:

The news from the ex-Sun community jungle drums is that the January rumours were true and Oracle laid off the core talent of the Solaris and SPARC teams on Friday (perhaps hoping to get the news lost in the Labor Day weekend). That surely has to mean a skeleton-staffed maintenance-only future for the product range, especially with Solaris 12 cancelled. A classic Oracle “silent EOL”, no matter what they claim as they satisfy their contractual commitments to Fujitsu and others. 

As Phipps notes, it is clear that some Oracle Solaris staff remain. Another Sun veteran, Alan Coopersmith, who has worked on Solaris since 1999, tweeted:

The news follows the annoucement last month that John Fowler, another Sun veteran who stayed to serve as Oracle's executive VP for systems, had left the company. Fowler had responsibility "for the delivery of all of Oracle's systems products, including SPARC and x86-based servers, Oracle Solaris, networking, and disk and tape storage products." The SEC filing [PDF] dated July 27, 2017 says "John F. Fowler resigned his position as Executive Vice President, Systems effective as of August 2, 2017." Oracle has not named a replacement for Fowler, and has so far not given a reason for his exit.

It is somewhat difficult to guage how much SPARC and Solaris are still used in production systems but it is likely to be declining. On the SPARC side, Oracle's hardware revenue for the full 2017 fiscal year (ending May 31st) was $4.15bn, down 11 per cent for the full year and, for the first time, Oracle made more from cloud than it did from the hardware business. The company has previously announced plans to build a SPARC-powered cloud but, assuming these cuts are correct, it may be that this plan hasn't been well received.

It is also worth noting that MongoDB has killed of its Solaris development efforts. Describing the decision as bittersweet the company’s director of engineering Andrew Morrow says:

The principal reason for us to drop Solaris support is simply a lack of adoption among our user base. Of our commercial users, we knew of only a handful who had ever been running on Solaris, and all confirmed that they had migrated away, or were in the process of doing so. Our download numbers for our Solaris builds confirmed this lack of interest, as did stats gathered from our managed operations tools — we find about 0.06% (and decreasing) of MongoDB users are running on Solaris.

He goes on to add that "The future of Oracle Solaris, perhaps the one true Solaris if you had to pick one, is murky at best."

Oracle's OpenWorld conference is on October 1st, and it may be that the vendor gives more insights into its plans then.

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